The King of Genitalia Street (END)

The next day was Sunday and my mother had planned an informal yet twatty brunch for a gathering of friends and neighbors. It was destined to be another highfalutin affair as they always are. From the top of the stairs where I perched like a looming owl and looked down upon them, neck twisting to perfectly position the ears, eyes wide in a pretend dream of love set to be unwheeled by my devious plan. But I did not feel guilty as I listened to the clinking of sangria glasses and the pretentious chortles while the vibrating hive chatted down in the foyer, some of the rich bodies floating off into other rooms and spaces of the house, dropping crumbs and sloshing drinks along the way without a shred of concern.

I could hear my father drunkenly laugh out loud as he talked with Frost and his own father, the rich and bloated Mr. Claude Bennington, the infamous balding, icy-hearted architect, about the depravity of the working-class poor and their blue-collar, fast-food lifestyles, along with their lack of appreciation for the finer details found in the engineering of buildings.

“Their eyes just can’t comprehend it,” the elder Bennington began, his stuffy and snobby voice, like a pretentious professor, rising like black smoke to scrape against and discolor the ceilings. “It just doesn’t reach their polluted brains. They don’t get that it takes a very great man, such as me, to envision the bending of steel and the precise placement of glass and to breathe life into the soul of a space. You could almost say I’m responsible for creating life itself, in an ethereal sense, of course. I take an empty place, a voided realm, and I plant a seed and a complex structure grows like a magical beanstalk. Do you see what I’m getting at…?”

His voice trailed off and I couldn’t stand the taste of the factual moment, this slice of time where my father was carrying on with this architect Bennington and his gross offspring, the one begotten in thrusting grunts upon a drafting table, this young man, the ever-prickish Frost Bennington, standing right there beside him like he was as Jesus is to God, my holy father touching his sweatered, collegiate back with one time-worn hand, holding a glass of strong drink in the other. My father treated Frost as if he were his own flesh and blood, but little did he realize it was that very same flesh, younger, meatier flesh, that had been pressed to his wife’s lust-tingled skin the two nights before, and it was the very same blood that had pumped through his veins and rushed to his rocketing organ that he continually rammed into my mother’s begging body until he shot off like a plasmatic light storm locked in a glass ball. My poor blind fool of a father, I thought.

Yes, I am guilty of envy. Yes, it hurts my insides. Yes, I am capable of revenge. I was extremely jealous that Frost Bennington basked in the drunken glow of my father’s attention and love. That should be me beside him I stomped aloud in my own spinning head. I should be the son he is proud of. I should be the son he admires. But I am not, I am the ever-alert owl at the top of the stairs looking down on this charade of fools, cleaning my feathers with precision, and knowing this is the day they will all become cognizant of the lies of their loves. This is the day they will be shocked and disheartened. Even my sweet sister Emily will be, as she twirls about the crowd with my bastard baby Maine, showing him off, making up some lie about who he is and where he came from so suddenly… “Babysitting for a friend,” she tells them as she spins around like Mary Poppins suffering through an aching period.

And then there’s my mother, the victorious Queen Victoria of the room, head so high in the air her chin scrapes against the soles of God’s sore feet. She dressed herself in long sleeves, not for fashion sense but merely to hide the fingerprint bruises of climax Frost left indented in her arms when she went down on him. She wore too much makeup on her face, her brassy hair was too twirled and high, she over smiled, and she over laughed in her showtime presentation to the bubbling leeching crowd. It’s all about the look of it for her, like I already mentioned a long time ago. It’s all about the presentation and appearance. It’s all about the vigorously buffed outside to hide the scratches, and never to reveal the blackened, tarnished inside. Little does she know of the patina that is about to be unveiled as she sips and smiles so sourly among her guests.

And then my father happily appeared from somewhere invisible, and he went to my mother and he just up and kissed her right there in front of everyone, dipping her a bit, nearly causing the spill of a drink, and they all cheered and laughed and some whistled and I wanted to swoop down from my perch atop the stairs and rip both of their eyes out with my razor-sharp talons. And then I’d pick them up from the fluid floor and carry them over the entire scene and show them, yes, with their very own eyes clutched in my beak and talons, how void of life their lives really were, and then I would drop their screaming stretched-wide eyes in the crystal punch bowl and the last thing they would see would be their own selves drowning in a sangria blood pool alongside bobbing orange slices and edible pink flowers.

I wanted to run down and tell my father to spit her kiss from his mouth. I wanted to tell him that she had Frost’s seed lingering beyond her lips, still dripping from her dangling uvula, and that she would eventually kill him with her betrayal. And it would be just the same with his polished protégé — Frost creeping up behind him to thrust a knife in his back while huffing my mother’s silky French deshabille like gasoline in a rag. But now I was destined to make all that reveal itself quickly, and in consequence my position in this place, this so-called family would be forever altered — I would be exiled to the big, big city of glittery and soiled solitude to live out my days broke and alone with no place to really call home, at least not a home built by Kings.


When it came time for me to make my appearance to trigger the utter derailment, I felt little nervousness. I was quite calm as I began to slowly descend the stairs toward the gyrating pond of scum and gloss. I hoisted my old boombox high above my head and I must have looked like Lloyd Dobler expressing his love and desires for Diane Court outside her house in that movie Say Anything. But instead of a Peter Gabriel love song pouring out of the speakers, it was a song of human sex. It was lustful noises that cascaded down those stairs and into the air above their bobbleheads. What blurped out, at the highest volume allowed and for all to clearly hear, were the sounds of my mother breathlessly moaning as Frost worked himself in and out of her. Then came her dirty utterances, filthy things she probably never had said to my father in all their years together. Then came the sounds of her crying out Frost’s stupid name as he slapped himself harder against her, and even that could be heard, that whap whap of flesh smacking against flesh. And then it was sounds of their sloppy and heated kissing, the biting, the clawing, the gnawing of the static air itself. And then came Frost’s divine and ultimate thrust that forced his very own DNA inside her worked-up guts, and he howled like a wounded animal, his joyful release dripping through clenched fangs reminiscent of that exuberant feeling one got on that last day of school before summer vacation, and Frost let out a high as a tidal wave wet crashing rip and boom of “Oh Evelyn! Evelyn! My God, Evelyn!”

The next thing I knew, I was standing on the third step from the bottom and the crowd before me was aghast and with glazed over shocked eyes that stared right at me in horrid disbelief. I looked over at my mother, her jaw dropped first, followed by her glass of iced sangria punch that shattered on the angelic tile of the foyer. A misshapen circle of reddish orange liquid spread. “Everett!” she screamed out. Then she suddenly fell to the floor and people surrounded her and then it was my sister, handing Maine off to another set of arms and then rushing to my mother, her face cocking in my direction for just a moment, and she had a look of dead grimace and horrible pain upon her.

Then I saw him through the small but frantic crowd, and he was coming at me in seemingly slow motion. Frost, like a raging bull. And he quickly got on me and he pulled me down with his claws like a lion on a gazelle. He went for the boombox and did everything he could to turn it off, but it was relentless in it’s spilling of the songs of his sins he himself had birthed, and he had to struggle with it before finding the right thing to do, which was to dismantle it by smashing it upon me. And that’s exactly what he did. I can see a perfect picture of it when I look back on it, Frost Bennington howling crazy above me like Alex DeLarge in a Clockwork rage as he brought it down hard, the sounds of their sex becoming eerily warbled and finally dislodged and then shredded by his menacing anger. I remember how my face got caved in, my nose broken, and my mouth bloodied despite my efforts to shield myself from the blows. Then it was my father who came to my rescue, and he pulled Frost off me and tossed him to the side and there was insane screaming all around me, a distorted roar like an unrestful ocean, but then the sounds all began to fade, and my vision got bloody and blurry, like I was walking around cloudy red Heaven or something. And I recall people saying my name over and over and over again, and the last thing I heard was, “What have you done!?”


The next thing I remember is I woke up in the hospital and my sister was in the room sitting in a chair.

Her head was hung low like she was sleeping or very sad. “Emily?” I managed to say. I smacked at my own mouth. It tasted like old blood. “Emily? Are you dreaming?”

She wasn’t dreaming because her head slowly came up and her eyes were open to look at me. She blinked slowly. Her face was red, puffy, and wet with tears. “How are you feeling?” was the first thing she said to me, sniffling.

“Torturous,” I answered.

“Seems about right.”

“And what of mother?” I asked, quickly wanting the news.

“Mortified but resting.”

“And father?”

“Dark. Brooding. Deep inside himself… They’re talking about divorce, Everett.”

“I suppose they should be.”

“I doubt they will go through with it,” Emily decided for herself. “The financial implications would be too much for them at this point.”

“So, I suppose they will continue to live together in the shadows like jackals?”

“Most likely,” Emily said, and she stretched herself in the chair. “Just darker, junglier shadows.”

I paused and reached for some water in a plastic cup that sat on the bedside table on wheels. I sipped. I looked at Emily and she was far away. “What about you and Frost?”

She quickly snapped out of her self-imposed trance. “I broke it off, of course. He didn’t take it well. He didn’t take any of this well.”

“They only have themselves to blame, Emily. They brought this avalanche to the mountain. It was the noise that finally buried them.”

She looked at me like I was evil. “You set a lot of fires yourself. The neighborhood is abuzz with uncontrollable gossip and brimstone. Mother is convinced they will have to move now. Why such a show?”

“I tried to tell you. You didn’t believe me.”

“It seemed so fucking preposterous at the time,” Emily said, and she got out of the chair and went to the window to look out at nothing but our own reflections in the hospital room. It was the way the light was. “I’m sorry I slapped you.”

“I probably deserved it… What do you plan to do now?”

“Get my own place. Carry on with school.”

“You can come live with me, if you want.”

She laughed a little. “No thanks.” She turned from the window and came to the side of the bed and looked at my busted-up face. She reached out to touch me. “Does it hurt?”

“Yes. It hurts.”

She smiled. “I may not be seeing much of you anymore,” she said.

I thought that was a strange way to put it, and then she pulled away from me and left the room.


It was a few weeks later I suppose, and I was sitting in my lonely apartment in the city eating a bowl of cereal and looking out a window. The world was a dirty white and it was Valentine’s Day and I had no heart to share.

It was funny what happened next because there was a knock on my door and when I went to open it, there was my mother standing there holding a big cardboard heart of chocolates wrapped in shiny plastic. She looked cold and sad. “Hello, Everett,” she said, and she sounded like how a radish tastes. “May I come in?”

I stepped away from the doorway to allow her space to come inside. She handed me the heart of chocolates. “I got you this. I figured you’d be alone today. I suppose I just didn’t want you to go without… Something.” She shed her coat, played with her hair, and sat down on my couch. She looked around my ill apartment. “I really wish you’d try to better your living conditions.”

I sat down in my chair across from her. I tore the plastic off the heart-shaped box and lifted the lid off. It smelled like a fancy candy store inside. I reached in for a round one with a delicate swirl etched across the top of it. I bit into it, closed my eyes, savored every little part of it. “Maple cream,” I said with a dreamy satisfaction.

“I’m glad you like it,” my mother said with a forced smile. “Have another.”

I looked around at the different shapes and colors and plucked a rectangular dark chocolate one out. I popped that in my mouth. I tried to decipher the flavor as I chewed it, my mother strangely staring at me. “Some kind of caramel,” I said.

“Caramel is caramel,” my mother replied with a disappointed scoff.

“I suppose you’re right,” I answered. “I still like the maple cream the best. Thank you. You didn’t have to. I know that what you really think is that I don’t deserve it.”

We just sat there and looked at each other in an awkward silence for a while. “Mother?” I finally said.

She looked at me achingly, coldly. “We’re not going to talk about it,” she sternly said. “We’re never going to talk about it.”

And that’s when she stood up and reached for the gun she had hidden away in her coat. She raised the small silver pistol out in front of her and then she put it to her head, wide-eyed and like she was saluting someone grand and mighty. I saw her fragile finger move against the trigger and then there was a bang and a flash and the wall behind her was suddenly dappled red and gray, and I could feel the warmth of my own mother’s blood against my face. The gun dropped. Her body dropped. The entire world dropped.

I crawled over to her body, and I tried to hold her deadness aloft in my arms but I just couldn’t do it so I let her back down so she could just rest on the floor; that floor now stained crimson and with the smell of human iron coming up from it like summer steam after a rainstorm. And I just sat there beside her for the rest of that Valentine’s Day, even into the darkness of night, and when I slowly moved my head toward the unshaded window, I saw that great ivory eye the moon and the man living there in his blue suit was screaming out to me, “Look what you have done! Look what you have done!”

END

You can read the previous part of this story HERE.


Child of the Cabbage (End)

Gracelyn Polk was on her stomach on a small bed in a girlish bedroom of pink. Her legs were bent upward at the knees behind her, socked feet crossed, as she lazily flipped through a teen magazine. A Who record spun on a small turntable in its own red box that could close with a gold latch, and it had a handle so a person could carry it around and take it to parties if they wanted to. Baba O’Riley filled the room as Moses the cat was curled like a furry crescent roll on the bed beside her. There was a yellowed and curling Ralph Macchio poster on the wall, some cheerleading memorabilia on shelves, a makeup table with an attached mirror next to a childish white dresser. There was a closet, door propped open by shoes, and it held unfamiliar clothes within it. A rectangular window with white curtains looked out upon an endless sea of cabbage, a metal windmill stirring screams in the distance.  

Then there came a gentle knocking at the door and Gracelyn reached to lower the volume on the record player. “Come in.”

The door opened with a creak and Farm Guy looked at her uncomfortably and smiled. “I just wanted to see how you were getting along in here,” he said, his head slowly moving around, scanning memories with his crystal blue silicon eyes, filing them in the proper slots. “Room okay?”

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Thank you for… Everything.”

Farm Guy put his hands on his hips. “Absolutely. I love having you… Say, I thought I might take a walk out into the cabbage before dinner.”

Gracelyn scrunched her face in distaste. “You aren’t going to pick any, are you?”

“I’m not much for cabbage either,” he said, moving toward the window and peering out, his tall body awkward in the small bedroom. “It’s gross. That’s why I find it so strange that a whole field of it shows up in my backyard.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea… To go out in it. Because I don’t think you should.”

“I was hoping you’d come with me,” Farm Guy encouraged, walking closer to the bed, and looking down at her. “Might make us both feel better. You know — when we don’t find anything out of the ordinary.”

“But what if we do?”

He waved a hand in the air to discount her worry. “Nah. All we’re going to find is a hell of a lot of gross cabbage. That’s it. Trust me.”

She moved herself so that she was now sitting on the edge of the bed. Moses the cat got up, arched his back like Halloween, then curled back down into a snoozing ball. “Do you know anyone named Astron Puffin?” the girl asked.

A look of intense pondering came over Farm Guy’s face as he considered the question. He snapped his fingers suddenly when something came to his mind. “Cabbage farmer from over in Hillsdale.”

“That sounds like him.”

Farm Guy shook his head. “Odd sort of bird he was.”

“How so?” Gracelyn wanted to know.

“He was one of those fellas always going on about spaceships and little green men from Mars… Hell. He was a little green himself come to think of it.”

“I hardly think the little green men are from Mars,” Gracelyn interrupted. “They’re smarter than that. Mars is a dead planet and unable to support life as we know it.”

“Are you sure about that?”

She cocked her head to think about it. “I think so. Astronomy was one of my favorite subjects in science class. And besides, no intelligent life would want to be neighbors with Earth.”

“You got that right… Maybe you should do a report on Mars.” He waited for a reaction from her, but none came. She just sat there, thinking, jabbing her teeth into her bottom lip. Waiting for something. “Well, anyways, wherever they’re from, he sure was weird about it.”

“Did you know him well?” the girl asked.

“No. Barely at all. A random acquaintance who drifted in and out of the community of cabbage. Which I was not part of. I just knew a few of the guys. What does he have to do with you?”

“He had been following me around, at school mostly, watching me. He even showed up at my old farmhouse where I was staying, too.”

“He did? What on Earth for?”

“I don’t really know, except that he was always going on about being friends with me and wanting to protect me, and how he didn’t want to be alone… Like you said, he was an odd sort of a bird. I found him to be a bit pushy, too, and just not right.”

Farm Guy looked at her, his face flushed with a serious tone of knowing something that she knew as well but was left unspoken. “Well, thank God you’re here with me now. That’s downright unsettling.”

“But that’s not all, Mr. Guy. Sometimes I think I hear him out in the cabbage. At night. Yelling. Scared. Lost. But calling for me.”

Farm Guy sighed deeply, returned to the window, and looked out for a few moments. He made sure it was locked before he turned back around. “Let’s go for that walk.”


Astron Puffin sat in the endless cabbage field, knees drawn up, legs locked into position by his thick arms, his head down, his mind now mumbling. A crow flew across the sky, its aching caw causing Astron to look up. The cold sun was somewhat blinding. He looked at the cabbage around him. He studied their green, veiny heads and leafy wings and their seemingly unbreakable bond to the earth. Astron shook his head and scoffed. They were his only audience, and so he began to talk to the cabbage.

“Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like you’re a car, and you’re completely out of control and you go off the road and you crash into someone’s house… And I mean right through the living room, and all of a sudden there’s all this broken glass flying everywhere and bricks and wood and pieces of wall and everything is chaos, and everything is a mess, and, in the process, you even end up killing some lonely old man who was just sitting there in the house all by himself watching Johnny Carson on television or maybe reading his Bible in the glow of a soft lamp… And then suddenly, a car comes crashing through the wall and it’s all done for him. It’s all blood and dust and shattered bones and the entire history of one poor soul is snuffed out like a lipstick-stained cigarette in a dirty orange glass ashtray in a smoky dive bar.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” came the voice, the same voice from the spaceship but now coming out of one of the heads of cabbage that had turned to face him like a real head. The strange eyes widened, and the green lips moved again. “I see you’re startled, but think nothing of it… We have more pressing matters. The man is coming.”

Astron scrambled backward in the dirt. “The man?”

“And the girl is with him.”

“Gracelyn?”

“It’s time to stop the clock.”

The head dissolved and a rusty pitchfork with blood-stained tines suddenly materialized in the mist of gravity and quickly dropped out of the air and landed in the dirt before him with a deathly rattling thump.

“Something from your barn,” the voice from the cabbage said. “Do you remember it? Do you remember what happened back on the farm? Do it again.”

Astron went to pick it up. It felt right in his hands. It felt familiar. He began to walk toward the big, yellow house again. And this time, he was getting closer to it with every step he took.


She held his large, rough hand as they meandered down a perfectly straight row of the cabbage field. Gracelyn turned to look back at the house. “How far are we going?” she wanted to know.

“We’ll know when we get there,” Farm Guy assured her. “But don’t worry about that. Look around. Enjoy this beautiful day as it comes to an end.”

“You said that so decisively. What’s going on?”

Farm Guy suddenly stopped. He went down to his knees before her and took the girl by her arms. He looked far into her muddied golden eyes, the technology of her pupils gently sparking, the bloodshot lines merely delicate wires. “You have no idea what you are, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why you go on while all the others don’t. Why some wandering god on the other side of the moon left you all alone here… It’s because you’ve never been alive. And if you’ve never been alive, you can’t die.”

She reached out a finger and poked him in the face. “You don’t have real skin.”

“No. I don’t.”

“We’re the same.”

“Yes. We’re the same,” he answered.

And just as Farm Guy rose back up before her, Astron Puffin charged out from some invisible place and he was howling like a madman, the pitchfork straight out in front of him, the tines hungry for new flesh and blood and the bringing of death.

Farm Guy moved like lightning shot from the fingertip of a god in the inhuman way he was made, reached out, snatched the handle of the pitchfork, and swung it around. He cocked it back quickly, and then violently thrust it forward into Astron Puffin’s chest, two or three of the tines surely piercing his heart.

The world somehow slowed as Astron dripped to the ground like a slew of heavy mud. Farm Guy yanked the implement back out, threw it to the side. Astron fell forward, face-down. Gracelyn turned and ran away, deeper into the cabbage.  


He found her sitting all alone on a big abandoned wooden crate looking off into the distance. The day was dying on the crest of the darkening hills, a moon was eager to make its entrance alongside the black stars and ruby red planets.

“I had to do it,” he said from behind her. “He would have tried to hurt you, take you apart piece by piece… And I just couldn’t have allowed that, but I’m sorry you had to see it just the same.”

“You didn’t move like a man. It scared me.”

“I didn’t mean to scare you.” He went to sit beside her on the abandoned wooden crate. “It’s getting dark. We should probably head back to the house soon.”

She ignored what he had said. “Did you know that even after a star dies, its light can be seen for a million years?”

“Is that right?”

She looked at him in the fading light, twisted her mouth. “I think so… Do you think it will be the same for us?”

He chuckled, breathed in deeply. “I don’t know. But it would be nice to see each other if there ever was a time we were very far apart. Maybe you should do a report about it.”

“Maybe I will, but not tonight.”

They hopped off the crate and walked back toward the big, yellow house, now the color of a moonlit bruise, window frames aglow, the light brought forth by the servants of memories moving around inside.

END


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 8)

Farm Guy quickly got up from the table, went to the refrigerator and yanked open the door. He was pretending to look for something, but he was really trying to avoid her muddied golden eyes drilling into him for an answer.

“Why would you ask me something like that…? Why don’t you die?”

“I want to know,” Gracelyn said.

He pulled himself away from the blue-white glow of the refrigerator and closed the door, a small plastic bottle of cranberry juice now in one hand. He twisted the cap off and drank some. He made a face like the juice was overly delicious. “You’re too young to die,” he blurted out, and he took another gulp of his juice. “You’re too damn young.”

“But what if I’m not?”

He stared at her, unable to immediately give her an answer.

“You know something, don’t you…? About why I have so many birthdays.”

The man looked at her through the bottom of the plastic bottle of juice as he finished it off, her face painted the color of red wine. Then he asked her, “How long has it been?”

“Nearly 414 years,” Gracelyn said without hesitation. “I can’t make it stop.” The girl paused. “How long has it been for you?”

He looked at her like she was crazy, and then turned away like he was hiding something. “What are you talking about? I’m 74 years old. 74. End of story.”

“I’ve read a lot of books at the library… Things about reincarnation and other such oddities, but it’s not that. I’m always the same person. I’m never a bear or a tree or even someone else. It’s always just me. At least it seems that way.” She looked up at him, a refined sadness in her eyes. “It’s not fair. No one should have to live forever.”

Farm Guy let out a chuckling scoff. “Tell that to Noel Gallagher.”

Gracelyn crinkled her face. “Who?”

The man waved a dismissive hand at her and reclined his back against the kitchen counter. “He was in a band — way, way back and they had a song… You know, music. Oh, never mind. It’s not important.”

“You’re trying to avoid the subject, aren’t you?”

“You’re too gosh darn smart. Come outside with me. I want to show you something.”


Astron Puffin had been walking through the cabbage field for a very long time, and it seemed to him that he never got any closer to the big, yellow house on the horizon jutting up from the earth like an erection. At first, he thought he had simply misjudged the distance, but as he went along, he sensed there was something terribly different about this cabbage field. He stopped. He listened to his rapid breathing as he looked around. He started to panic. The cabbage was so vast, so deep in his sightline that he felt he was drowning in it.

“Hello!” he suddenly cried out. “Is anyone out there!? I seem to have lost my way in the cabbage!”

The house was still there, taunting him from a vast distance that never seemed to close. It was almost as if everything in the world was slowly backing away from Astron Puffin as he tried to get closer.

He lifted his head heavenward and looked for them. “I told you I never wanted to come back!” he screamed out at the sky. He wiped at his brow with a thick, hairy forearm. It was cool outside, like autumn slowly browning in the oven, but he was sweating. “Come back!” he yelled. “Don’t leave me alone like this!”

The sky remained empty. There was no answer, and Astron fell to his knees within the row, the smell of the rich soil smacking his face, the distance around him ever expanding.


Farm Guy and Gracelyn stood on the edge of the same cabbage field and looked out across it. The field was immense, a sea of bulbous and winged vegetation that nearly vibrated with energy.

“Cabbage?” the girl said, turning to look up at him. “You brought me out here to look at cabbage?”

“It’s not just any cabbage,” Farm Guy said with a serious tone. “It’s… Different. This field, it changes, it’s alive somehow.”

“Of course, it’s alive,” Gracelyn pointed out. “They’re plants.”

“Not alive like that… Alive like, it breathes, it has a soul, it speaks.”

“The cabbage talks to you?”

Farm Guy began to pace along the edge of the field, his hands moving around out in front of him as he tried to explain to the girl. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve heard voices out there.”

“Voices?”

“Like… Like someone is trapped and they want me to help them.”

For the first time since she met him, Gracelyn started to doubt the stability of her new friend. “But what does any of this have to do with why I have so many birthdays?”

“The cabbage. It, it never dies… It just keeps living. Like you. Like us, I suppose. No one ever comes to pick it, no one ever tends to it… It thrives on its own.” He held out his arms wide before him. “And it just seems to keep getting bigger. It’s almost as if it’s expanding endlessly, like the universe.”

“I knew it. So, how long Mr. Guy?” Gracelyn asked with a firmness. “How many birthdays have you had?”

He looked down at her, worried and concerned, but willing to confess. “704.”

“Shit,” the girl said unexpectedly. “You must be tired.”

Farm Guy chuckled at her attempt at humor. He sat down on the ground with an old man groan. “Oh, my. Yes. I’m tired. But I keep waking up. There must be a reason… Don’t you think?”

The girl sat down beside him. “I don’t know, but I don’t think I want to be alone anymore.”

He gave her a comforting glance. “You mean you want to stay here with me?”

“Would that be, okay?” she hoped.

“Aw, hell. I suppose that will be okay.”

FINAL EPISODE COMING SOON


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 7)

Gracelyn Polk stood in front of her social studies classroom and cleared her throat as she looked down at the paper she held in her hands. She moved her head up, addressed the empty desks with her eyes and smiled.

“For my report on the person I most admire, I chose someone that I just met. You may wonder why that is and how could such a notion come to be… The truth of the matter is, I’m often quite lonely. I don’t have a lot of friends and my family is all long gone. I don’t really know where they went or why. But here I am, before you today.”

She paused and looked out at the empty room. She started to feel foolish but went on with her speech regardless.

“My new friend’s name is Farm Guy.” She chuckled. “No, it’s not a joke this time. His name really is Farm Guy and I know that sounds awfully peculiar, but once you get to know him, it fits somehow. He’s a very nice man and a very smart man, too. He knows a lot about life and history and how to build things… And how to make the most delicious chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. And he’s nice to me. And in a world such as this, I suppose that’s the best thing a person could be… And worthy of my admiration. Thank you.”

Gracelyn waited for the applause that never came and then went over to the large desk at the front of the room that once belonged to a teacher. She opened a drawer and pulled out a red marker. She yanked off the cap and sniffed at the tip, careful not to get any ink on her nose. “I just love the smell of markers,” she said aloud to herself. And then she moved her hand down to her social studies report and wrote A+ at the very top and circled it twice. She held it up in front of her, smiled with pride, and then went back to her own desk.


Astron Puffin looked down on planet Earth as it spun there on its fragile thread in the cradle of space.

“It’s set to snap,” said a strange voice from behind him — a deep voice, a slow voice, like a tape recording playing back on the wrong speed.

Astron turned his head. “And then where will the world go? Doesn’t it have to go somewhere?” he asks the one that looks different but is the same — his skin an oddly green color, but richer than that of himself, the eyes the brightest blue there could ever be, strange hair.

“It will drop out of the universe like a Price Is Right Plinko chip… And there will be no prize.”

Astron let a small, haunting laugh escape from his throat. “Price Is Right?”

“Come on down,” the alien said in his slow, monotone, deep voice.”

Astron turned away to look out the incredibly large window again. The Earth was still there. “I don’t ever want to go back,” he said. “Please don’t ever take me back.”

But then Astron’s eyes were closed for him, and when he opened them back up, he was lying on his back in the middle of a cabbage field. It was a very large cabbage field, seemingly endless except for the low hills at the furthest edges, the color of green mist. The air around him smelled of good dirt. He looked up and the sky with its dying sun was there — an ocean of blue filled with the white sails of cloud ships. He stood up and looked around him, turning slowly in a circle like a searchlight. It was an unfamiliar place to him for it was not his own farm. Deep in the distance he saw something that jutted up out of the horizon. It was a house — a large and welcoming house of yellow. He decided that was the direction to go in.


Gracelyn set her bicycle down in the front yard of Farm Guy’s big, yellow house. She bounded up the front porch steps and excitedly knocked on the white door with the inset frosted glass window. It wasn’t long before it opened, and the man was standing there in a plaid shirt and denim pants. A bright smile came over his face.

“Well, well, well,” Farm Guy said. “If it isn’t the infamous Gracelyn Polk.”

“It is me. I wanted to bring your cookie container back and I have something to show you.”

“Then please come in,” he said, spreading out a long arm before him in a gesture of welcoming. His eyes then quickly darted around the outside world with a hint of suspicion before he closed the door behind them.

Farm Guy took a seat in his favorite living room chair while Gracelyn sat on a small sofa across from him. The girl looked around the cozy room that reminded her of Christmas when there was a Christmas. A fire crackled gently in a large fireplace, even though it wasn’t extremely cold outside. The heartbeat of an old clock pulsed in rhythm atop the mantel. The view out a large window was lonely. She saw old pictures of other people scattered about the room on walls, tables, and shelves. Some of the people looked strange, different in an unexplainable way.

She set her backpack to the side, unzipped a pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper. She stood and took it to him.

“What’s this?” he wanted to know.

“I did a report about you.”

“A report? About me?”

“That’s right. And as you can see, I got an A+.”

Farm Guy reached to his chairside table, fished for a pair of reading glasses, and placed them on his face. “I’m going to have to take a look at this very closely,” he said, smiling and tipping his head forward, eyes looking out from above the frames of his readers. He held the paper before him and began reading it, his eyes half squinting as they intensely glided across the words. He let out brief snorts of wonder and charmed humility as he went along. When he was finished, he set the paper aside and withdrew his glasses and looked at her.

“What do you think?” she eagerly wanted to know, sitting on the edge of the sofa now.

“I’d have to say that’s just about the finest report I’ve ever read,” he answered. “And I don’t say that just because it’s about me. Do you mind if I keep it?”

“It’s all yours.”

Farm Guy got up from his chair and made his way out of the room. He motioned to her to follow. “What do you say we take this in the kitchen. I’ll hang it up on my refrigerator. Come on. How about some peanut butter cookies?”


Gracelyn sat at the kitchen table with a tall glass of milk and a plate of peanut butter cookies set before her.

“Can I ask you something?” she said.

“What’s that?” the man said as he stood, his back to her, admiring the girl’s report that he had just attached to his refrigerator with a Las Vegas souvenir magnet.

“How do you have all this stuff?”

“What do you mean?”

“The milk and the cookies… And the good electricity. Everything. I mean, it’s all just like a regular house from how it was before. Where does it all come from? How does it work?”

Farm Guy turned to look at her quizzical young face, her upper lip now striped with milk. He went to sit at the table across from her and struggled to think of a suitable answer, a serious tone morphing his face. He reached for and then handed her a napkin. “Do you believe that life extends far beyond what we experience here?”

She wiped her mouth and thought about it. “Do you mean on this planet?”

“Yes. But not only on this planet… I mean all around us. Even here. Right next to us right now in this very room. There’s so much more happening around us than we ever even acknowledge.”

“You mean you get all these things from somewhere else?”

He leaned back and studied her. “I suppose that’s a pretty good way of putting it,” he said, moving his head around to look at everything. “It all comes from somewhere else.”

“And what about you?” Gracelyn questioned. “Do you come from somewhere else?”

He looked at her intently, tempting to reveal himself completely, but at the last moment pulling the punch.

“Of course, I do. I’ve lived in many other places. Haven’t you?”

“Absolutely… At least it seems that way,” the girl said, and she tilted her head to the side and gazed at him with wide eyes “Can I ask you something else?”

“You can ask me anything.”

“Why do I never die?”

TO BE CONTINUED


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 6)

Author’s Note: If you’re interested in seeing the notes used to frame this chapter of the story, you can visit this POST.

The next morning, Gracelyn Polk felt well enough to go back to school.

She slowly pedaled her bike in the morning glory goodness, looking up at the yellow metal sky and its crumbling sun. She thought about Astron and what he had said — about there not really being others at the school and that it was an empty place full of ghosts. He made her feel foolish. He made her feel as if she was wasting her time.

“I don’t care what he says,” she spoke aloud. “I still need a good education. And there’s nothing wrong with having a vivid imagination. I can play school if I want to play school. Whatever else am I going to do with my days?”

As Gracelyn came upon the unsettling neighborhood of Vinegar Village, she suddenly stopped. She looked off to her left, down one of the tree-lined streets there. It was the general Midwestern place found in the great picture book of the American dream, now dreamless. The homes ran in a row down each side of the boulevard, typical two-story architectural teeth erected by lost hands inside a broken jaw, darkened square windows of dusted glass looking out on buckled and broken sidewalks pierced by immortal weeds of green.

She heard a noise coming from a place where there was usually never a noise. She tried to stop breathing so that she could hear better through the distance. The noise rang out softly in a consistent rhythm — it was a clinking or tapping sound, metal upon metal, then metal upon wood, she thought.

“Someone’s hammering on something,” she told herself. “But who would be building in this dark age?”

She got off the bike, steered it out of the roadway and set it against a shrub row at the edge of the right-side sidewalk. She looked up at a white street sign attached to a tall, black lamppost at the corner. At the top, higher up then the sign, the post had a faded white covering the shape of an inverted tulip shielding a long dead bulb. The sign read: VINEGAR VALE, and then in smaller letters boulevard was abbreviated as BLVD.

She slowly slinked along the cracked sidewalk, peering through breaks in the shrub rows to catch glimpses of empty front yards, watched upon by the sentinel vacant homes that looked like tombstones because of how they sat all in a line like that — silent and dead and merely shells for memories blasted away. The hammering noise grew louder as she went. When she got to the end of the block, she peered across the intersection and saw a man mending a fence at a big yellow house there on the corner. It was much bigger than the other houses around it, much grander, Gracelyn thought, and not nearly in a state of disrepair as the others. Someone was caring for it. Someone had never left, or maybe someone returned. She stood at the opposite curb while the man continued to work. It wasn’t long though before he completely stopped hammering and straightened himself like something had suddenly caught his attention. He looked to his right. He looked to his left. He looked up at the sky — and then he turned around.

He gazed at her for a moment as if he just didn’t know what to make of the girl standing across the street and watching him. He holstered the hammer in a toolbelt he had around his waist. He reached into a pocket in his blue jeans, withdrew a red cloth and wiped at his face.

“Are you lost?” the man finally called out to her.

“No. I’m on my way to school.”

The man readjusted the straw-yellow cowboy hat atop his head and squinted at her with a look of wonder and confusion. “School?”

“Yes, sir. School.”

The man made a puzzled face. “There’s no school here… Or anywhere.”

“I make my own school. It helps to keep my mind occupied with something.”

The man shook his head in agreement, tossed a glance over his shoulder at the house and said, “I know what you mean.” He made a motion to her with his hand for her to come closer. “Let me get a better look at you,” he said.

Gracelyn looked both ways before she crossed the street that didn’t require looking both ways and went to him without hesitation. She stopped before him and looked up because he was tall. He had sentimental eyes, Gracelyn thought, Bear Lake blue and contemplative. His face was somewhat drawn and speckled with whiskers the color of salt. She wasn’t afraid of him at all. She felt safe for once.

He looked her over and smiled. “And who might you be?”

“Gracelyn Polk.”

The man nodded and twisted his mouth in an act of considerate thinking. “I never heard of a Gracelyn Polk.”

“Oh, it’s okay if you’ve never heard of me. I’m not famous or anything.”

The man chuckled and looked around at the present-tense world he was in. “Fame doesn’t matter anymore — it never did.”

Gracelyn nodded up at the big, pretty house of bumble bee yellow. “Do you live here alone?” she wanted to know.

The man sighed with the stab of a quick, dark memory. “I do. Yes, I do.” There was an awkward silence between them and then he put his hand out to her. “The name’s Farm Guy, by the way.”

Gracelyn reached out and shook his hand. She crinkled her face. “Farm Guy?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s your name?”

“That’s my name.”

“So, your first name is Farm, and your last name is Guy?”

“You would be correct.”

“That’s not really a name… It’s more of what you are, but then again, this isn’t really a farm.”

Farm Guy laughed. He liked her. “Do you want to see my birth certificate?”

Gracelyn seriously thought about it for a moment. “No. I believe you.”

He smiled. She liked his smile. It was peaceful and comforting, like a quiet grandfather maybe, she decided.

“You know, I think I’m tired of working on this darn fence for a while. Would you like to come inside for some milk and cookies?”

Gracelyn was happily shocked. “You have milk?”

“I do.”

“You have cookies?”

“Chocolate chip. Made them myself,” Farm Guy boasted.

Gracelyn chewed at her bottom lip and looked at the big house again, trying to decide. “I really should get off to school. I’m already going to be late.”

“Well, I know school is important… But I’d like you to. Been a while since I’ve had some company in the big old house… And the milk is cold, and the cookies are… Out of this world.”


Gracelyn sat at a round table topped with a tablecloth that reminded her of a picnic she once took when she was very young — like a checkerboard, but with blue and white squares. There was a glass vase in the middle of the table and inside the vase were yellow flowers that looked wild. The kitchen smelled like good cooking. It was a very nice house, at least the parts she had seen were. It was very clean and neat and smelled like a good, happy life. She just couldn’t understand why it was here or for what reason. It didn’t fit, but it did. Then again, it didn’t matter, because at the moment she needed it.

Farm Guy set a tall glass of milk in front of her. She quickly reached out a hand and felt the cold, wet glass, and drew it to her mouth and took a gulp or two. The man set down a cookie jar that resembled a white pig wearing a black top hat who was sitting down on his rear end like a person. He had a wide smile and a big belly. Farm Guy lifted off the head by the top hat and set it aside.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Help yourself.”

Gracelyn eagerly thrust her hand inside the pig’s cookie jar guts and pulled out a big chocolate chip cookie. “I haven’t had a cookie in… Seems like forever,” and she bit into it, closed her eyes, and slowly chewed, savoring every sweet moment.

Farm Guy pulled off his straw-yellow cowboy hat and hung it on a peg near the back door in the kitchen. His head was mostly bald except for a short crop of hair around the sides and a sparse patch of mowed down receding fuzzies up top. He pulled out a wooden chair across from her and watched as she enjoyed the snack.

It was then a serious look came over his face and he said to her, “Do you understand what happened to the world?”

Her eyes were fixed on him as she bit into another cookie. “I only know the world got too hard for people to live in… Most people.”

“You’re right,” he said. “You’re a smart girl.”

“That’s because I still go to school.”

The man gave her a soft smile and nodded his head.

“But what I don’t understand,” Gracelyn began. “Is why. Why did the world get so hard to live in?”

Farm Guy took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. He reached a long arm to the cookie jar and pulled one out, put it toward his mouth and nibbled on it as he searched for an answer for her.

“I suppose in a nutshell, the answer would be that people became too hard on people.”

“You mean they didn’t care about each other like they should have?”

“That’s a big part of it. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about the world, but I know quite a bit. And what I know makes me sad as I sit here and look at you.” He sucked at his mouth and looked around the bright kitchen. “You shouldn’t even be here. Not like this. You should have a different life. A better life.”

“But I don’t mind being here with you… Like this. It’s nice for once.”

Farm Guy held a fist in his hand and looked into her eyes. “We were too hard on the world, and it turned on us. Think about a cat. What happens if you pull on a cat’s tail really hard… Even if it’s the nicest cat in the world?”

Gracelyn polished off the last bit of the milk in her glass and looked at him. “The cat gets mad.”

“That’s right. The cat will turn on you. It will hiss and screech and try to scratch at you. I know it’s a simple answer, but that’s sort of what the world did to us. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Gracelyn quickly answered.

Farm Guy sighed and got up from the table and went to the kitchen window and looked out. “I sit alone in this big house quite a lot and it gives me too much time to think about how we messed everything up. There was just too much greed, too much selfishness, and everyone’s priorities all askew… Do you know what askew means?”

“Like crooked?”

“Yes. Crooked.” He quickly moved back to the table and sat down again. “Think about this and you’ll understand more about what I mean by priorities all askew. Imagine there’s a man on one half of the world and he’s a rich man, a fat man, a fancy man, and he’s having dinner at a fancy restaurant with other rich and fancy people… And they order all kinds of drinks and appetizers and big dinners, and they all eat and eat and eat until they are so stuffed with food, that they are sick to their stomachs and can’t even finish it all.”

“They’re being pigs,” Gracelyn blurted out. “Like your cookie jar, but not in a good way.”

“Sort of, sort of like pigs. But then imagine that on the other side of the world, the same gosh darn world we share with each other, there’s other people that are wandering around in the dirt of their country and they look like skeletons because they don’t have enough food to eat… They don’t have enough to eat while the ones on the other side of the world have so much to eat, they end up throwing it away. It ends up in the garbage. Think about that.”

“It’s terrible.”

“It is terrible… And these poor people lie down at night but it’s too hard to sleep because they’re starving and starvation hurts. How can we even have a word such as starvation when there’s food just being tossed away?” He made a motion with his hand and had a look of disgust on his face.

“You know what I used to think about?” Gracelyn said.

“What’s that?”

“I always wondered this… If the people on the poor side of the world didn’t have enough food, why didn’t they just build themselves a restaurant and go to it and eat?”

Farm Guy looked at her and smiled. “You know, I used to think the very same thing.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Seems like a logical solution, right?”

“It does to me.”

“The only problem was,” Farm Guy began. “There were too many horrible people sitting in these high towers of polished glass and steel and they didn’t want the poor people to have restaurants because the poor people couldn’t pay for the food. And these horrible people who didn’t care sat at long tables in fancy rooms, and they talked about and plotted how they could squeeze more out of every man, woman, and child, until they died and left this Earth. And this was all very important to them, mind you, they took it very seriously. And instead of feeding and helping others less fortunate, they built great electric temples to house their food and their products as if they were gods, and they convinced the people they needed to worship what was ultimately useless. Miles upon miles upon miles of these temples were built, all over the world, and the people who worked in them were stuffed into a uniform and inducted into a culture of selling and serving. It was sold as an exciting career with unlimited growth potential… But it was ultimately a form of slavery. And it consumed them daily, sucked away their life just so they could suck out the lives of others… It was a tragic cycle of profit over people. That was their battle cry and that was a god damn big problem for the human race. Always was.”

He looked at the girl with some concern, hoping he wasn’t giving her more than she could handle, but Gracelyn sat attentive and wide eyed. “Do you know how I know all that, what I just said?” he asked her.

“How?”

“I used to be one of those fools in the towers of polished glass and steel.”

“You were?”

“I was… And in the end, I lost everything that was important to me.”

“Is that why you’re all alone.”

“That’s why I’m all alone… Not that any of that matters anymore.”

“But you’re not alone now. I’m here.”

Farm Guy brightened. “And I’m so glad you are.”

Gracelyn wanted to hear more. “What else about the world went wrong?”

He chuckled sadly. “Too much. More than a lifetime could tell.”

“The wars?”

“That’s right… The wars. They elevated orange fools to positions of power and gave madmen weapons of mass destruction. And countries started stepping over lines just to kill and destroy and take, and for what? For what purpose? I never understood it. Never. And nobody did anything about it. Nobody cared.” He pointed a finger at her. “The gross evil came in the fact that we invested in war and killing and destruction. Billions upon trillions of dollars to rape each other to death with guns and bombs, to rip the earth apart and cover it in blood, and for what?… And all this goes on right under the nose of some caring creator?” He scoffed and looked at her. “I’m sorry if that was all a bit strong.”

“It’s okay. I can take it.”

“How old are you?”

“11. Nearing 12.”

“You come across much older than that.”

Gracelyn looked down, almost ashamed. “I guess in some ways I am.”

“But all we had to do, was cling to love and we didn’t,” Farm Guy continued. “We nurtured it so little. In our small circles, our big circles, across the entire globe. There was so much carelessness in the simple act of kindness.”

Farm Guy grew tired of listening to himself carry on in such a dark way. He glanced up at the clock on the wall, and then back to Gracelyn. “I’m afraid you’re really going to be late for school now,” he said. “You can just blame it on me.”

“It’s okay. I’ll just look at my time here with you as an… Educational experience. I may even do a report about you.”

“A report about me?”

“Sure.”

“I look forward to that,” he said, and he stood up and went to get a plastic food container out of a cabinet. He filled it with chocolate chip cookies, snapped on the lid, and handed it to her.

“To take with you.”

“Thanks,” she said, and she got up from the table.

“No problem at all. You’re always welcome to come back if you want more.”

“You’ll be around?”

“I’ll be around.”

“That’s good. I was worried I might never see you again.”  

Farm Guy opened the back door and saw her out. He watched her for a long time as she walked away, as long as it took for her to completely fall away from his sight.

 TO BE CONTINUED


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 5)

A bastard chill struck a prophecy of a coming autumn as Astron Puffin sat on a fallen tree deep in the woods. He was looking down at his small but thick hands. He turned them slowly before him, and it was hard to imagine that those were the same hands used to crush their throats. But he had to do it, he rationalized, or their fate could have been much worse.

He remembered the day the strange men had come to his cabbage farm in their protective suits and told him they were there to shut everything down. They went into the house and destroyed all the pipes and cut all the wires. He remembered how they talked about the jail maximus and how it was burning and how all the lions were escaping from the zoo. There was so much chaos. Everything was falling apart. Then they just kept coming back and taking his wife and daughter behind closed doors — locked closed doors. He tried to shake the sounds of the thumping walls and their cries from his head.

Astron yelled out in the silence — hoping the bad vibes would shoot out of his soul like an exorcism. He looked up and the trees looked down. He saw the mustard-stained blue sky interwoven with the scraggly branches. And then the ship appeared again, to do its analyzing of a world it could no longer save. Astron watched the red-glowing disc hover slowly and silently above. There were quick, bright flashes — like old time flashcubes on those cameras that used film. He wondered if the visitors, these immortal observers, would suck him up again into the belly of their craft. He half-hoped they had never returned him to Earth as he bowed his head and waited to become weightless. But then, just as they had smoothly and silently appeared, they vanished. A crow berated him from a nearby branch, and then it too flew away. Perhaps every other living being in the universe had given up hope on man.

Astron suddenly remembered and reached into his pocket and pulled out Gracelyn’s drawing. It might give him a sense of purpose and peace, he thought, as he carefully unfolded it and then held it before his eyes. He would go to her again, he decided, even if she still rejected him as a friend, or a guardian. If the strange men in the protective suits ever came back, it would be better if she wasn’t alone — it would be better if he wasn’t alone as well.

Gracelyn was in a sleepy daze on the old living room couch when the knocking started. She had been halfway dreaming of meandering through the throngs of people on the streets of Paris during the French Revolution — or maybe it was merely a conscious memory. She darted straight up and listened as the knocking became more persistent, trying to figure out where exactly it was coming from. Her head turned toward the front door and she got up and stood before it. Dead and gone loneliness floated in the morning gray-gold cloud filtering into the foyer from brightening spaces throughout. She watched as the door rattled slightly with each pound of someone’s fist.

“Who is it!?” she said, a threatening tone in her voice.

The knocking stopped and there was a brief silence before he spoke.

“Astron Puffin. From the school.”

“I’m not going to class today. I don’t feel well…. So, you can’t force me to go. I’ll make up my work later.”

“I’m not here to make you go to school.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I can protect you,” Astron offered.

“Protect me from what?”

“You know what. The things of this new world.”

Gracelyn paused for a moment, thought about it. “I don’t need your protection. I’m very capable of taking care of myself.”

“You’re a young girl… Alone.”

“And I’ve done just fine for myself, haven’t I.”

“You’ve been lucky.”

“Luck has nothing to do with it,” Gracelyn snapped. “I’m smart. I’m resourceful. I’m strong. Probably stronger than you.”

“Do we have to talk through the door like this?” Astron looked about the grounds around him, thinking he felt something, someone in the air. “I’d rather be inside if it’s all the same to you.”

Gracelyn moved toward the door, stood on her tiptoes, and brushed aside the curtain that covered a small window. She looked out at him. Astron smiled. Then she unlocked the door and let him in.


Astron looked around the old farmhouse as she led him to the living room. He pulled off his knit cap with the long point that hung over to one side of his head, a puffy ball on the tip.

“You can sit there,” the girl said, pointing to the couch. “I don’t have much, but would you like an apple?”

Astron nodded. “I can’t believe you live in this big old house by yourself,” he said to her as she trailed off to the kitchen.

“Why can’t you believe it?” she asked as she returned to the room and presented him the apple. He took it, rubbed it against his shirt, and bit into it.

“All the space. All the memories,” he said as he chewed the apple, a bit of juice leaking from his mouth. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

She sat down on the couch, but as far away from his as she could be. “I’m used to it. I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

“How long?” he wanted to know.

She pressed her lips tightly together and considered the question. “A lot longer than you could imagine.”

“Why don’t you like me?” Astron asked point blank.

She looked at him, puzzled by what he said. “It’s not a matter if I like you or not. It’s a matter of survival. I barely know you… And why are you being so forceful about this friendship thing, or whatever it is you’re searching for.”

“You let me in… So, you must trust me, at least a little bit.”

“Have you been here before?”

Astron looked at her but didn’t immediately answer.

“You have, haven’t you?”

“No,” Astron assured her. “I haven’t.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out her drawing. He unfolded it, laid it out on the table before them and tried to smooth it out with his hands.

“Why do you have my drawing?” Gracelyn asked. “Why did you take it?”

“I like it. It brings me some sort of peace… It helped me find you. Here.”

Gracelyn stood up, angry. “You had no right to take that! It was for my art class, and I was going to be graded on it. Now I’ll fail! I’ll fail because of you!” She snatched her drawing from the table. “And now look at it. You’ve made a mess of it! I’ll probably have to do another.”

“You’re all alone at that school, don’t you realize that?” Astron blurted out, raising his voice to her for the very first time. “There is no school anymore. There are no other students or teachers or anyone. It’s an empty building full of ghosts.”

Gracelyn looked at him, her eyes wide and on the verge of being wet. “I want you to leave.”

Astron sighed, clasped his thick hands against his thighs, and got up. “I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he breathed. He turned back to her before he got to the door. “If you need anything, you can come find me. Even if you don’t want to.”

“I won’t need you… For anything.”

“I’ll be at the school if you change your mind.”

Astron tugged on the front door and went out. She went to the open doorway and watched him walk away. He threw the apple off to his left side, like he was skipping a stone across an unmuddied lake, before a bright light appeared in the sky, and in half of a blink of an eye, he suddenly vanished.

TO BE CONTINUED


The Doll Salon (Pt. 3)

The Psychiatrist

Dr. Frost was sitting in a chair across from Feldon and flipping through a file. He clicked a pen and scribbled something down. He was dressed in a shirt and tie and perfectly pressed pants. His shoes shined like the gates of Heaven. He was a man in his late 40s with a neatly bearded face and a high forehead with thinning dark hair slicked back over his scalp. He wore expensive glasses over his dark eyes and constantly sipped at lemon water during the sessions.

Dr. Frost was a serious man who seemed continuously annoyed at the less intelligent world that surrounded him. The doctor carried himself with an air of self-importance; he was a product of wealth and the best schooling, but it did him no favors because he was often looked upon by his colleagues as snobbish and close-minded. He had been trying to help Feldon for months now but was dismayed and often bored by his lack of progress. In fact, he felt Feldon was getting worse each time they met. The doctor folded his hands in his lap, cleared his throat and nodded his head with a fake grin.

“Are you ready to begin?” he asked in a firm yet soft tone.

Feldon was lying on the comfortable couch and staring up at the white ceiling.

“Yes.”

“How have things been since we last talked?”

“I got into a fight with Carl last night. I hit him.”

Dr. Frost readjusted himself in the chair and leaned in with some interest. How absolutely exciting, he thought to himself.

“Why did you hit him?”

“He was annoying me.”

“How?”

“It’s just every time I try to get close to Eve, he’s always right there. He’s always getting in the way.”

The doctor clicked his pen again and jotted something down in the file.

“I seem to recall that you had talked about asking Carl to move out. Maybe it’s time to do that. It sounds like things are getting a bit out of control.”

“I can’t just throw him out into the street. He doesn’t have a job. He’d never survive,” Feldon complained.

“I think it’s admirable that you care about the wellbeing of your friend, but you also have to consider your own happiness as well, Feldon,” the doctor replied.

“Happiness? What’s that?”

“I suppose it’s something different for everyone, but for you, I believe a sense of security and having less chaos in your life would be a start.”

“Maybe I should be the one to move out,” Feldon said. “I could just go away, somewhere else, and never come back. I just long to escape.”

“But Feldon,” Dr. Frost began. “Until you give up this idea that happiness is somewhere else, you’ll never be happy where you are. So, you see, it really doesn’t work. And you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re with yourself wherever you go. You may be able to escape from a physical place where you may feel sad and uncomfortable, but in the end, no matter where you go, there you are. Does that make any sense?”

Feldon turned his head to the side and craned his eyes to look over at the doctor.

“No,” he said. “It makes no sense at all.”

Dr. Frost reclined in his chair, adjusted his glasses, and sighed.

“All right then, I see we have work to do in that area, but tell me, what about Eve? How did she react when you hit Carl last night?”

Feldon squirmed a bit on the couch. “She didn’t say much about it.”

“Nothing?”

“Not really. I think she was a bit shocked maybe. But I also think she’s messing around with Carl when I’m not there, so, you know, she didn’t want to act like she cared too much about him. I’m not fucking stupid.”

“So, you suspect they’re having an affair behind your back?”

“Yes,” Feldon said, with little hesitation.


Dr. Frost removed his glasses and rubbed at his eyes with his thumb and a finger. “Feldon,” he began. “I feel living with these two people is causing you a lot of unnecessary anxiety and worry. It’s unhealthy. I would strongly suggest separating yourself from them.”

“You want me to kick both of them out?”

“It may seem drastic, but I feel it’s for your own good.”

“But then they’d shack up for sure, just to spite me. I’d be sick to my stomach every single night. At least if we’re all in the same place, I can keep my eye on them. What kind of advice are you trying to give me? Are you sure you’re a real psychiatrist?”

“Feldon, please! I am not the subject of this session or any of your sessions. Let’s focus on this. You think they’re messing around when you’re not there, you said it yourself. What are you going to do when it goes too far and you walk in on them going at it in your own bed? Then what?”

“Why would you say something like that?”

“I’m just trying to help you realize how unhealthy all this is. You have to choose what’s best for you, not what’s best for them.”

“What if I asked her to marry me?”

“Who?”

“Eve.”

“I would put that notion on the back shelf, Feldon,” the doctor strongly advised.

“Why? Do you think I wouldn’t be a good husband to her?”

“It has nothing to do with that. You have far too many immediate issues to deal with. Marrying her would be a complete disaster for you.”

Feldon closed his eyes. His stomach hurt. “I’d like to talk about something else now.”

Dr. Frost sipped at his lemon-tainted water. “What would you like to talk about?”

“I had a job interview.”

Hmm, this should be interesting, the doctor thought to himself. “Well, that’s a positive step. What kind of job?”

“Working at a doll salon.”

“A what?”

“A doll salon.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s a place where people can bring their dolls for a makeover and what not. A salon… For dolls.”

“Are you making this up, Feldon?”

“No. It’s a real thing.”

Dr. Frost clicked his pen once again and wrote something down.

“What’s the matter?” Feldon asked.

“I’m simply taking notes. But why would you want to do that? Why would a grown man want to play with dolls for a living?”

“Are you questioning my sanity?”

“That’s my job, Feldon. But please, I want you to explain to me why you would want to play with dolls all day.”

“It’s not playing with dolls! It takes real creativity and skill to make a doll look beautiful and perfect. There’s hair and makeup to consider, the right dress, and accessories, too. Yes, you must know about accessories. These people pay good money for this type of thing, and besides that, I prefer human interaction with non-humans.”

Dr. Frost paused. He tapped his finger against his face and sighed with concern. “Do you realize how very odd that sounds?”

Feldon grew more defensive and sat up on the edge of the couch. “It’s not odd at all. There’s a real need for it for some people. It’s a service I’d like to provide, and I think I’d be good at it. I see nothing wrong with it. I thought you’d be pleased that I’m trying to put myself out there. Why are you trying to sabotage my progress!?”

“Just calm down, Feldon. There’s no need to get upset. I’m not trying to sabotage you at all. Please, lie back down.”

“I don’t want to. I want some chicken and coffee.”

“You want to leave?”

“Yes. I don’t think you are any help to me at all.”

“Have you been taking the ‘don’t be sad’ pills I’ve prescribed.”

“No. I’m making Carl eat them. I think that’s why he’s constantly grinning.”

“You shouldn’t do that. That medication is specifically prescribed for you. You could be causing harm to your friend, and yourself.”

“There’s trapezoids in my empty mind, doc. My empty mind.”

“Feldon, I want to see you more than once a week now.”

“Why?”

“I’m gravely concerned for your mental health.”

“Concerned? You mean you want more money, right?”

“That’s not it at all.”

“These are my last days, doc. My last days.”

“Are you feeling suicidal, Feldon?”

Feldon wanted to scream “YES!” at the top of his lungs, but he knew that such a response would surely be a death sentence anyway — a lie would spare him further agony and torture. “Of course I’m not,” he answered. “Don’t be silly.”

“Are you sure?” the doctor pried.

“Yes, I’m positive. It’s just that, well, sometimes life feels like a broken fucking record. Is that so immoral and worthy of persecution? Surely you feel the same way at times. You’re human, right?”

“I am,” he answered, and then the doctor leaned back in his chair and wrote some more notes. “I want you to come back on Wednesday, at 4.” He tore a piece of paper from a pad and reached out to hand it to Feldon. “And I’m prescribing you some more anti-anxiety medication. It’s for you, not Carl, okay?”

Feldon took the piece of paper and looked at it. The writing was indecipherable to him.

“I want you to take 8 pills a day, four at breakfast and four at dinnertime. Understand?”

“Okay. I get it. I’ll see you on Wednesday.”

Dr. Frost watched as Feldon depressingly dragged himself out of the office, and he noticed he was mumbling something to himself. Then the doctor looked down at the file, clicked his pen, and wrote the words: TERMINAL MADNESS in big, bold letters.

TO BE CONTINUED


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